French Lentil Soup: Splendidly Simple and Most Satisfactory

Finally, the perfect lentil soup recipe! As not actually usual for me, I made it as written so I will copy and paste it here with the title linked to the recipe on that I used.

…Well, okay, I made ONE change. The recipe calls for 4 cups of vegetable broth. I had a cup of chicken broth that needed a home so I used that along with three cups of veggie broth. I did use freshly homemade veggie broth, but I don’t think the type of broth is going to make or break this recipe.

Okay, ONE other change: I used a quick squeeze of balsamic cream (Pastene brand that I picked up on a whim a few years ago) instead of a splash of balsamic vinegar. But, I am confident that the recipe is splendid as written.

Note to self: Get that balsamic cream out of the cabinet more often!

I highly recommend accompanying this soup with some good quality crusty bread to go with it!  My husband and enjoyed it with a loaf of Asiago bread that I picked up from Mamadou’s Artisan Bakery that morning. A simple green salad would go nicely, as well.

French Lentil Soup

3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery stalks plus chopped celery leaves for garnish
1 cup chopped carrots
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups lentils, rinsed, drained
1 14 1/2–ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar (optional)


Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium–high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; sauté until vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add 4 cups broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium–low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups soup (mostly solids) to blender and puree until smooth. Return puree to soup in pan; thin soup with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if too thick.

Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar, if desired. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with celery leaves.


Easy Salsa Chicken Tortilla Casserole Featuring Pam’s Salsa

I started doing the cooking demos at the Wakefield Farmers Market last season (summer of 2016) and continued doing them for most of the subsequent Melrose-Wakefield Winter Farmers Market season as well. While the major goal has been to highlight veggies and fruits from our produce farmers, I do like to
incorporate the offerings of other vendors when I can. (Due to Board of Health safety constraints, I have to stick to vegetarian/ non PHF (potentially hazardous foods) ingredients in the demos, which means I can’t share just any recipe at the market if I want to offer samples.) While salsa is indeed vegetarian,  I have yet to use Pam’s Salsa in a cooking demo. To make up for that, I found the perfect way to highlight this amazing fresh and delicious salsa in a recipe that is quick and easy, suitable for even the most busy household.

Easy Salsa Chicken Tortilla
Casserole Featuring Pam’s Salsa

1 – 1 ¼ pound boneless skinless chicken breast
1 pint Pam’s Salsa, separated if using a 1.5 quart slow cooker
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup or so:
chopped onion
chopped bell pepper
grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup tomato plain tomato sauce
1 tsp hot sauce
6 flour tortillas (10 inch)
6 ounces shredded cheese, Mexican blend if available

Put chicken and 1 cup (or the entire pint if using a 3.5 quart slow cooker) salsa in a slow cooker and cook 6-8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
Preheat oven to 350°. In a 10” fry or sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions, garlic, carrot, and bell pepper until just starting to get soft.
Stir the hot sauce into the tomato sauce and add to the veggies, along with remaining salsa if applicable.
Use two forks to shred the salsa-cooked chicken and mix into to the veggie-sauce mix.
Place two tortillas, overlapping as necessary, in the bottom of a greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
Cover with half the chicken mixture and one-third of the cheese. Add another layer of two tortillas, the other half of the chicken mixture, and another third of the cheese.
Place the remaining two tortillas on top and cover with the remaining third of the cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and a bit browned.

Top with sour cream and or whatever toppings suit your fancy.  And, of course, add anything else such as black olives, chunks of fresh tomatoes, more hot sauce, more cheese, or substitute enchilada sauce or adapt however will make this perfect for you.

NOTES: I used a 1.5-quart slow cooker. If using a 3.5-quart slow cooker, put the whole pint of salsa into the slow cooker with the chicken rather than adding the other cup to the chicken mix after sautéing with the veggies and tomato sauce.

Using Pam’s Salsa makes this so deliciously easy with the perfect “so fresh” taste. But, in a pinch, use one cup of a regular salsa of your choice and add a cup of frozen corn to replace the 2nd cup of salsa – or use your imagination. My suggestion is based on the Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken recipe I found HERE. (Scroll down a bit once you get to the page.) But, Pam’s Salsa really made this recipe pop, that’s for sure!

Makes six servings.

Frozen Steak? Just Grill or Pan Sauté It. Really! No Need to Defrost.

This is steak grilled from frozen. It was really good.

Not only can you grill (or pan saute) steak when frozen, many recommend it. I will update this post with references, but, for now, based on repeated experience as grilled by my husband Steve, here are the instructions for grilling frozen steak:

Heat the grill to high. Put the totally frozen steak over direct heat and grill for 5 minutes.

Flip, baste*, and grill for another five minutes. Lower heat and flip steak one more time, this time moving it up away from direct heat.

Baste one more time, and let the steak “roast” with the grill lid down, keeping the temperature at 350-375.

Use an instant read thermometer to monitor the internal temperature, checking every 5 minutes or so. Remove when at desired temperature and let rest at least 5 minutes per inch thickness. The attached picture shows steak done this way to 135 and then rested 5-7 minutes before slicing.

*For basting, we melt about a tablespoon of butter per steak. Once hot, we stir in 3/4 tablespoon  or so to a tablespoon of butter of Bondat Food’s Chocolate Chipotle Grilling Rub.

IMPORTANT: Keep a close eye to make sure the attached or dripping fat doesn’t catch fire and cause charring.

If grilling in cold weather, keep the lid down during the initial grilling to maintain high heat.

NOTE: This technique can be used inside using a heavy frying pan for the high heat part and the oven for the finishing roast period.

Want the Perfect Ham? Just Think Slow and Low

My slow-roasted 5.5 lb ham gave me 3 lbs sliced and plenty more meat and a bone for pea soup.

Finally! A totally foolproof way to produce the perfect ham, It is all about cooking it slow and low.

I had saved a 5.5 lb bone-in smoked ham that I purchased last spring from Lilac Hedge Farm and decided that it would make a great centerpiece for my annual July 4th gathering.

Given that cold-sliced made more sense for a picnic sort of fare than ham hot from the oven, I opted to cook the ham the day before, cool it overnight, and slice it the day of the party.

Since I had  a bit of an issue with dry ham with one or possibly two of the three (I had a crowd!) I cooked for Easter, I did some research in hopes of finding a way to ensure a juicy ham with a minimum of fuss.  I can’t find the website now, but someone posted about their friend who owns a diner, saying that the diner owner just puts the ham in a roasting or cast iron pan, covers it loosely with foil, and cooks it for 7-8 hours in a 275 oven. That’s it!

Since my ham was smaller than the one mentioned on the website I was consulting, I started checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer after 4 hours, with the ham reaching a safe 160 degrees or a bit more throughout in close to 6 hours.

Once done, I let it cool on a rack and them wrapped it up for an overnight in the fridge. Even then I could tell it was very moist, but when I carved it into as big chunks as possible and started slicing it on the morning of the 4th, it was confirmed: Perfection!  And it was delicious with no basting – but you can certainly add whatever sort of garnish or glaze that suits your fancy.

I am going to use this method for my Easter holiday meals from now on. For 2017, I have a bone in ham of just over 7 pounds, which will be plenty for my (relatively) smallish guest list of 7 plus my husband and me for 9 at the table. I’ll just pop the ham in the oven around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. and let it cook all morning into early afternoon to be ready, cooled a bit, and carved for a 3:00 or so meal time.  And I am already looking forward to some pea soup in the following weeks, too!

Tomato Sauce Seasoned with Lemongrass. Quick, Thick, and Easy!

demo ingredients FAI have really been enjoying doing cooking demos at the  Wakefield Farmers Market this summer.  I will hopefully get around to posting about the recipes I prepared earlier in the season, (some of which caused our farmer to sell out!)  but will start with this easy and really delicious (if I do say so myself!) tomato sauce that I prepared in the Market Kitchen Tent on August 6, 2016.

Since the goal of these demos is to encourage folks to try new types of produce and/or learn easy ways to use various veggies and fruits and then purchase them from our farmers, all the ingredients for the sauce except for the olive oil, salt, and black pepper were sourced from our farmers that market morning.

First, I got 5 pounds of  lovely tomatoes and basil, and I already had some garlic from Farmer Dave’s. I didn’t get a picture of it, but I got an awesome onion from Kelly’s Farm, and specific to this demo, I got the lemongrass from Flats Mentor Farm.



I had been wanting to make sauce for a farmers market demo so I could share a handy technique for making a thick sauce from fresh tomatoes without the day-long simmer that I previoulsy posted about HERE.  I also am always looking for ways to highlight less familiar Asian veggies, greens, and herbs available from Flats Mentor Farm. In wandering around the Internet, I came across a tomato sauce recipe calling for lemon zest. AHA! I thought, maybe lemon grass is an option. Having never used lemon grass, I needed to find out if it could, indeed, be used to bring a light, citrus boost to a cooked sauce. After some searching, I found this information:

Substitute 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped to make 1 TBSP for 1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated.

I also found a very helpful tutorial on preparing and using lemongrass HERE.

grated tomatoes before cooking

grated tomatoes before cooking

With this info, as well as ideas based on perusing a number of sauce recipes using a minimum of seasonings, I was ready, packing just olive oil, salt, and a pepper mill to use in addition to the produce from our farmers. (Disclaimer: Although I knew I would only need a few of the items, I actually always bring a small tote bag with what I consider pantry essentials so I will be prepared for anything: olive oil, rice vinegar, tamari, salt, a pepper mill, dried red pepper flakes, and honey. I should add some maple syrup, too.)

After I got all the ingredients from our farmers, I started with the five pounds of tomatoes. I cut them in half, cut out the stem/core, and then grated them  right into a big bowl, holding the cut side of the tomato along my box grater on the side with the biggest holes, which also saved peeling the tomatoes as the skin remained behind.

minced lemongrass and garlic

minced lemongrass and garlic

Next I prepped the lemongrass and garlic, using about two inches of  peeled lemongrass  and the equivalent of a smallish clove of garlic, both minced. I did not measure, but I am going to say two 2 teaspoons of minced lemongrass and 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Or thereabouts.  Next time I will most likely use at least another teaspoon or two of minced lemongrass.

sauteed flavor base

sauteed flavor base

Next I chopped a medium size onion and added it, with the garlic and lemongrass, to the pan after I had heated a few tablespoons of olive oil, and cooked on medium heat until just soft. Then I added a handful of fresh basil, chopped, and a few grinds of black pepper, and sauteed for a few minutes before adding the grated tomatoes.

sauce before strain

sauce before strain

strained pulpOnce all had cooked for about five minutes, I poured the contents of the pan, via a few batches, through a big mesh strainer, making sure to get as much liquid separated out as I could. Then, reserving the pulp, I poured the liquid back into the pan and cooked it down until very thick, which took about 15 or 20 minutes.

liquid cooked downOnce the liquid was thick enough to stay apart so you could see the pan for a few moments after running a spoon along the bottom, (see photo) I added back the pulp, and a about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and simmered for a few minutes to reheat the pulp and meld the flavors. And that was it!

deanos pasta for demoFor the market demo, I had cooked up some Fresh Egg Fusilli from our vendor Deano’s Pasta, which was the perfect medium!

And, below, here is the sauce. Well, what was left of it when I remembered to take a picture of it. It was definitely thick. 🙂 And folks sure did like it. I had two people ask me if they could buy the sauce and then told me I should get someone to jar it for me so I could sell it! And, having a youngster say, with eyes wide, “This IS good!” is another indicator that using simple seasonings and easy techniques are the best way to let the wonderful flavors of freshly picked local veggies and herbs to shine.

thick sauceFor just the recipe without so much talk, see HERE.


Simple Noodle, Sausage, and Veggie Soup

soup potNeed a quick and tasty meal that is healthy, too?  Bring a few cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, add thinly chopped or sliced veggies and a cooked hot sausage cut in thin rounds, and a handful of soba noodles broken in half, or any type of noodle – whole grain if possible.

Simmer for 5-6 minutes until the veggies are tender to taste, sprinkle in some dried parsley – or add chopped fresh greens, and season to taste. The soup pictured has soba noodles, carrots, soup closeupcauliflower, hot sausage, and dried parsley – and it hit the spot!


NOTE: This version got its seasoning from the cooked hot sausage. If you use tofu, tempeh, or beans, etc, you may want to add tamari and/or other seasonings to jazz it up.

And Then There Was Stock. Turkey Stock :)

turkey stockOnce you have gotten a few meals from your Herb Roasted Butterflied Turkey after first enjoying the bird during your Low Stress Turkey Dinner feast, the next step is to make a lovely stock from the bones and scraps, being sure to get as much meat off the bones as you can to hold in reserve for the soup you will, of course, be making.

I had already used the neck, “butt,” heart and gizzard, and backbone for the gravy stock, but there were still plenty of bones to flavor the 10 cups of water I used to cover the bones and veggies in my pressure cooker.  No pressure cooker? Get one!  🙂  Well, you won’t regret it if you do.  Get a Presto. That way you will always be able to find replacement gaskets. But, ANYWAY, you can also make stock via the stovetop simmer method, but it will be much quicker using a pressure cooker, and the pressure infuses the flavor so you don’t have to cook the stock down (lose volume) to get a hearty stock.

Along with the bones and scraps of meat and skin from my 14.5 pound turkey, I used 10 cups of water, a stalk of celery, two carrots, the 1/4 onion I had in the fridge, 10 or so peppercorns, a bay leave, and two corn cobs.  Instead of throwing out corn cobs or full ears that doesn’t get eaten soon enough when it is in season, I freeze them and  use one or two cobs in every poultry or veggie stock that I make. Doing so adds a great flavor.

Using this bird and proportions, I got 2 quarts of very tasty stock, half of which I will use for soup, and the rest I poured into two ice cube trays. Once frozen, I’ll remove the cubes of stock from the trays and put in a plastic bag to be used as needed for soups, gravies, or to flavor grains. Next step? The soup, of course, but I think I will use all my leftover mashed potatoes as a top “crust” on a few turkey pot pies…  Oh, on more thing.  If you can do it, be sure to use a pasture-raised turkey from a local farmer.  The flavor and texture is so beyond that of a standard turkey of any type.  Do it.  You and your family are worth the splurge.

Give Thanks, Laugh Often, and Cook with your Heart, Mind, and Soul.


Low Stress Method : Turkey Dinner for 12 with All the Fixings

trukey dinnerDo you love to host Thanksgiving for your family and/or friends but find it stressful juggling all the prep work with your already busy life? Are you tired of staying up late the night before, getting up at the crack of dawn on the big day, and never having a chance to just relax with your guests? Here are some recipes and ideas to reduce the stress and increase the enjoyment of the day.

NOTE: This is the “quick and dirty” vers

ion of this post.  At some point I’ll add more pictures and fix any typos, but this version should do the trick.
This plan is contingent on spatchcocking/butterflying your turkey. Doing so will ensure that:

  1. the breast meat won’t get overdone because it will take as long or longer than the thigh meat to cook to safe temperature,
  2. the turkey will cook WAY more quickly than a bird left whole, and
  3. it will be easy to carve.

Here is a great link describing how to spatchcock a turkey:

Here are some kitchen shears that enabled me, arthritic thumb joints and all, to cut the backbone out of a 14.5 pound turkey with relative ease:
Kershaw Taskmaster Shears

Okay, here is the plan. (the checklist is at the end of this post)

Do all your major house, bath, and kitchen cleaning the weekend before your gathering.  This is crucial to ensuring less stress!  🙂

Use a locally raised turkey if you can, and in any case, with no brine or other processing. Purchase fresh or give your turkey plenty of time to defrost in the fridge (5 days for a 15 pounder is ample) so that it is ready to prepare two days before your meal date. e.g. Tuesday day or evening for a Thursday  meal.

Two days before the meal, use this recipe: and be sure to reserve the backbone, along with the neck, heart, and gizzard, for gravy. 

On the same day or evening, cut two to three butternut squash in half or quarters and roast at 400 degrees until tender and let cool. That night or the next day, peel/scrap/scoop the squash from the peel and mash a bit.  Store in fridge to be reheated with desired seasoning on the feast day. (I find squash to be tasty as is, especially if locally grown, but salt, pepper, butter, nutmeg, brown sugar, etc can all be used to jazz it up.)

If you are making your own cranberry sauce, make it while your squash is cooking.

One day before the feast:

Use this recipe for the gravy. Since you’ll have the neck, too, add an additional cup of water than is called for. No pressure cooker? No worries!  Stove top instructions are included

Use this recipe for potatoes:

Tear/cut up 1.5 to 2 pounds of nice, hearty bread for stuffing and leave it out overnight so it dries a bit.

Prep whatever  other veggies (romanesco, green beans, brussels sprouts) so ready to pop on the stove or in the oven the next day. Also, prep any raw veggies for appetizers, make any dips or desserts (or get your guests to bring those sorts of menu items.  🙂

Feast day morning: Make the stuffing!  This is the BEST stuffing:

Don’t panic at the proportions.  Use these numbers for a 14-15 pound bird:

1.5 pounds shredded cabbage, green and/or red
6-7 oz diced onion
small stalk of celery, diced
12 oz diced apple
1/2 cup butter
1.5 tsp EACH ground sage and poultry season
1/2 tsp each salt and ground black pepper
1.5-2 pounds bread – torn/cubed and dried overnight

Once all veggies are sauteed, put in the roasting pan, mix in seasoning, add the bread cubes, and moisten with about 2 cups broth or water,  but add gradually to make sure you don’t overdo it.

Be sure to start  making the stuffing an hour or so before you plan to put your turkey in the oven. (You could prep the cabbage the night before, if you want.)

1/2 an hour before cooking start time, take the turkey out of the refrigerator and follow turkey recipe instructions, placing the bird over the stuffing right before putting in the oven. Tuck all the stuffing under the bird. Don’t forget to baste with 1/2 the melted butter before putting the turkey in the oven!

[If you have a convection oven with a bake option (versus roast) preheat to 425. Once the bird goes in, turn off then reset the oven to convection bake at 425. Once the oven is back up to temperature, start timing 30 minutes. Then, baste turkey with butter, lower temperature to 375, and start checking the temperature after another 1.5 hours or so. ]

Once the turkey is done and resting, bake the potatoes as directed, heat up the squash in the microwave or oven, and steam, roast, or whatever you are doing with other sides.

Finally get the gravy from the fridge and reheat as directed in recipe.

  • Weekend before – CLEAN, SHOP, pick cooking and serving containers and utensils, etc.
  • 5 days before: take turkey out of freezer if applicable.
  • 3 days before – make your lists, plan any table arrangements, check supplies of dinnerware, serving dishes, etc .
  • 2 days before: prep turkey as per recipe and roast squash
  • 1 day before: make potatoes and gravy as per recipes, prep at least the bread for stuffing and any side veggies, make any dips or desserts, if applicable.
  • THE DAY:
    1st thing: Finish any prepping, and make and cook stuffing and turkey as per recipes.
    While turkey is in oven, take a break, take a shower, or finish any other last minute things.
    Final: While turkey rests, bake potatoes per recipe, reheat squash, cook any other veggies sides, carve turkey, and reheat gravy.
  • SERVE AND EAT.  Enjoy!














Miso Soup with Soba Noodles, Nettles, and Daikon Radish

done 1 One of the many paths I’ve traveled is that of the vegan/macrobiotic herbalist, apparently for long enough that this soup is one of my comfort foods. Basically, all you have to do to make it is boil some water, add some soba or other noodles of your choice, along with whatever greens, veggies, and seasonings that you like. Once all is cooked, put a few teaspoons or more of your favorite type of miso paste in a soup bowl, add some of the hot broth to dissolve, and then ladle in a cup or two of the soup.  So easy!


the ingredients

Here is how I made it this time:

8 cups water
1 cup or more chopped daikon radish
3/4 cup or so chopped carrot
3/4 cup chopped zucchini
A handful or two of greens, chopped as needed (I used stinging nettles, parsley, and lambsquarters)
3 oz (when dry) soba noodles
1/2 cup cooked aduki beans*
1 cup chopped tofu
2 tsp miso

*The aduki beans were an after thought – I remembered I has some left over in the fridge. The zucchini was, too, now that I think of it. I had a 3 inch piece in the fridge that needed using.

soba noodle soup ready to cook

Ready to cook

To make: Bring water to a boil. Add everything except the miso and cook at least until the noodles are done, which would be about 6 minutes, and cook longer if desired.

With aduki beans added

After adding the aduki beans

To serve: dissolve the miso in a bowl in some hot broth, then add soup and season to taste or enjoy as is.

Suggestions: fresh garlic, tamari, rice vinegar, or even just some salt would be good, or really, anything that you like!. It’s a perfect venue for leftovers and experimental seasoning.


It was delicious!



Shrimp and Scallop in White Wine Sauce: Quick and Tasty

2015-06-21 12.22.26I have no idea how I avoided making a white wine sauce all these years. So tasty! So quick and easy! And, the best news is that it goes with all sorts of ingredients, from the the shrimp and scallops used in this recipe, to any seafood, as well as chicken, tofu, veggies, and more.

Here is the link to the original recipe that I found when looking for a new (to me) quick and easy way to prepare the seafood.

Easy Shrimp and Scallop in White Wine Sauce

Below is the recipe with the very few adjustments I made due to not having any chicken base on hand (I added depth with marjoram and extra grated cheese), having fresh parsley available, as well as needing to use up some cherry tomatoes.  I also totally forgot to add salt and pepper, so, while I will most likely add them next time, I did not list them here to keep it true to the experience.  🙂

Here is what I used:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces shrimp (regular, not small)
  • 8 ounces scallops (regular, not small)
  • 1cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1lemon, juice of
  • 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3-4  tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil over medium/high heat, add garlic and onion and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add shrimp and scallops and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add wine, basil, red pepper, and marjoramAllow to simmer 1-2 minutes. Add butter and stir until melted, then add chopped parsley, tomatoes, give a quick stir, then add grated cheese and stir until well blended. Toss with pasta, rice, or serve over a simple salad. 

For dinner, I tossed with organic brown rice ramen noodles, which worked splendidly, but any rice or pasta will work just fine.

I had the leftovers for lunch the next day. We had eaten all the noodles the night before, so I served the remaining seafood mix and sauce over the leftover salad of new lettuce, onion, and more cherry tomatoes that I had served with the original meal the night before.  (We have lots of cherry tomatoes right now, can you tell?)

Oh – don’t forget some good bread for both renditions to soak up the sauce. It is way too good to leave on the plate.

Enjoy!  And  be sure to experiment with ingredients and flavors.

Q Tip: